On any other day, comic book fans would be enraged when a superhero movie strays too far from the source material. This does not apply to the movies listed below, since the contemporary updates and changes implemented to the villains improved almost everything for the better.
Here are some of the best super villain adaptations in superhero movies that had a positive effect on their respective stories in spite of -- or in some cases because of -- their changes.
1. Colonel William Stryker (X2: X-Men United)
- Year of release: 2003
- Directed by: Bryan Singer
- Box office earnings: $407.7 million
X-Men stories always tackle fear and prejudice against the mutants, and no man represents this hatred better than William Stryker.
As a preacher who used fire and brimstone to scare people into joining his side, Stryker in the comics was an effective X-Men antagonist and an apt allegory for racism. Bryan Singer's second X-Men movie made him even more threatening by giving him his own private army and a military rank, turning the sanctimonious bigot into a violent extremist. Despite being a regular human being, Stryker is just as menacing as Magneto ever was.
Brian Cox may have only appeared once as the character throughout the whole X-Men movie franchise, but the his performance left such an impact that his character appears (albeit younger) in the prequel X-Men films.
2. Green Goblin (Spider-Man)
- Year of release: 2002
- Directed by: Sam Raimi
- Box office earnings: $821.7 million
The first Spider-Man was a lightning bolt caught in a bottle thanks to its near-perfect casting, especially with Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn, whose villainous alter-ego is the Green Goblin. It also helps that Dafoe's sneer is creepier than the mask he wears.
Norman Osborn in the comics has nearly no redeeming qualities, being a maniac who enjoys wrecking havoc and using political leverage to further his motives. Dafoe's take on the character improves on the comic by exploring the duality of his character, making him psychotic but sympathetic at the same time. The Goblin seen in Spider-Man is more than a costumed bomber on a glider; he's also Peter Parker's father figure.
Dafoe only played the role twice (including a cameo) but he is still an important factor in Raimi's trilogy. Osborn's time as the Goblin kick-started many of the personal conflicts that drove the Spider-Man trilogy, which culminated with his son Harry (James Franco) taking up the Goblin mantle to kill Spider-Man.
3. Joker And Two-Face (The Dark Knight)
- Year of release: 2008
- Directed by: Christopher Nolan
- Box office earnings: $1.005 billion
The Dark Knight cast new and disturbing light on two of Batman's most famous enemies, turning them into the sort of villains rarely seen in movies or comics.
Heath Ledger's final performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight has become legendary, as the villain, often campy in other versions, is turned into a nihilistic psychopath. As iconic as Ledger's Joker is, giving him all the credit would be unfair to Aaron Eckhart's Two-Face, the disgraced district attorney who gave The Dark Knight another level of emotional pathos.
Batman is known for having a tragic connection with his villains, and Eckhart's exploration of the duality of Harvey Dent's nature drove this sad point home. The combined villainy of the Joker and Two-Face helped immortalize The Dark Knight not just as a great superhero movie but as a character analysis with a superhero motif.
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4. General Zod (Man Of Steel)
- Year of release: 2013
- Directed by: Zack Snyder
- Box office earnings: $668 million
Zack Snyder's Superman movies may be incredibly problematic but if they got one thing right, it was General Zod, played by Michael Shannon.
Depending on the writer, General Zod is either a megalomaniac or an extremist with a cause. Man Of Steel depicts him as the latter, with Zod willing to eradicate human life to bring back Kryptonian civilization. Past interpretations of Zod usually painted the general as a knock-off dictator but Man Of Steel made him sympathetic. His hatred for Superman, and his actions on Krypton and Earth, are more understandable.
Zod's controversial death at the hands of Superman also made him more important than intended, since Superman swears to preserve life after fatally stopping Zod's defiant final acts. It's a pity that Batman V Superman undoes all of this by turning Zod into a sci-fi movie monster that gets killed by Superman without any hesitation.
5. HYDRA (Captain America: The Winter Solider)
- Year of release: 2014
- Directed by: Joe and Anthony Russo
- Box office earnings: $714.4 million
In the wrong hands, Captain America and his foes have the tendency to resemble poorly thought-out propaganda stories from World War 2. The Russo Brothers avoided this by modernizing every character in Captain America's roster.
The MCU versions of Captain's enemies like Batroc the Leaper, Crossbones, Arnim Zola and Helmut Zemo are all impressive updates for otherwise generic bad guys, but the HYDRA collective deserves special mention. In the comics, HYDRA flip-flops between being a paramilitary threat and a goofy evil organization that wants to rule the world. But in The Winter Soldier, HYDRA is transformed into a shadow government that almost convinced the world to surrender its free will in favor of HYDRA's authoritarian regime.
6. Almost Everyone (Suicide Squad)
- Year of release: 2015
- Directed by: David Ayer
- Box office earnings: $718.9 million
The final product may have been anything but a surefire hit, but one thing both fans and critics can agree about Suicide Squad is that its casting and core set of characters were perfect.
Suicide Squad is the first superhero movie to star supervillains, and director David Ayer took full advantage of this novelty. From creative modernized costumes to memorable personalities, Suicide Squad made people care and clamor for more from a cast of otherwise D-list bad guys from DC lore. Some even say that David Ayer prioritized characterization over anything else, resulting in Suicide Squad's somber dialogue scenes being more engaging than any of the action.
Due to the ensemble cast's size, some characters got the short end of the stick. This goes for Slipknot, a heavily cut-down Joker, and Enchantress - a weak villain with strains of Fantastic Four's Dr. Doom but with better looks. However, this doesn't take away from the fact that audiences and the film's actors still want to see the squad again.
Superheroes wouldn't be worth much if they didn't have decent opponents to trade blows and beliefs with. The evil-doers and/or violently conflicted personalities listed above prove that a good villain with a motivation that goes beyond world domination can do a lot of good for a superhero movie. As the genre continues to grow in size and cultural relevance, so does the need for a good story, and in these cases that can only be done with good supervillains.
For the complete opposite of these stellar villains, check out these villains who gave crime a bad name.